Dublin Airport in talks with airlines on staying below 32m passenger ‘cap’ for flights

DAA reports more than 25m passengers as fears cap of 32m will be breached by year end

Dublin Airport has opened talks with airlines over an increase in passenger numbers that is taking it close to the 32 million annual cap that previously led to planning complications.

State company DAA, which runs the airport, has reported more than 25 million passengers in the first nine months of 2023, as travel returns to levels not seen since before the coronavirus shutdown.

Such growth has spurred expectation that the passenger cap might be breached before the end of the year, a question that is said to be “live” in aviation circles.

The cap was imposed by planners when they approved the airport’s second terminal. At issue is whether a breach spurs any action by objectors or planners, although planners appeared to accept DAA’s explanations after the overall number of passengers exceeded 32 million in 2019.


Concern about the cap comes as DAA seeks a relaxation of night-flight restrictions after a High Court stay on enforcement action by Fingal County Council. Last month, the DAA sent a 500-page dossier to An Bord Pleanála in a case seeking its approval for new “noise abatement” measures.

Dublin Airport previously recorded a gross number of 32.9 million passengers in 2019, the year before the pandemic. But the net number was 30.7 million, after counting passengers transferring between two flights only once and not counting transiting passengers whose planes stopped to refuel in Dublin.

With overall numbers this year on a par with 2019, DAA is likely to adopt a similar approach when counting passengers for the purposes of the cap.

“DAA is adopting a prudent proactive approach to managing passenger capacity through Dublin Airport’s Terminals 1 and 2 to the 32 million passenger cap this year and next,” the airport operator said in response to questions.

“In addition, there are passengers who do not use the terminals, including transit passengers who remain on the aircraft.”

The DAA’s position remains that it submitted a reconciliation of the 2019 passenger totals to both Fingal and An Bord Pleanála in 2020 and did not receive any requests for clarifications.

Those submissions set out the numbers of origin and destination passengers, as well as transfers and transits.

Transit passengers are counted twice for aviation purposes, once when arriving and again when departing. But DAA counts such passengers once for planning purposes, on the basis that one person equals one passenger.

DAA is understood to have discussed the cap in recent times with both Ryanair and Aer Lingus, the biggest airlines in Dublin Airport.

There was no comment from Ryanair. Aer Lingus said: “Dublin Airport has commenced consulting with airlines on the passenger cap issue. Aer Lingus will participate in that process which is at an early stage and is ongoing.”

The cap has led to entanglements with planners in the past. DAA went to Fingal County Council four years ago seeking a declaration on passenger numbers. The council sent the matter to An Bord Pleanála, but its board didn’t issue a ruling, saying the case was not covered by the law under which Fingal made the referral.

An Bord Pleanála had previously rejected a DAA bid to amend planning conditions to specify that the cap referred to “origin-destination” passengers. That application reflected DAA’s view that connecting passengers have no impact on the transport network as they do not leave the security-restricted airside area of the airport.

DAA plans to seek planning approval for new airport infrastructure before the end of 2023, with the aim of growing to some 40 million passengers annually.

“Central to Dublin Airport’s ability to meet the demands of passengers and our airline partners in the years ahead will be securing planning permission to grow Dublin Airport as the national airport to meet Ireland’s future demand for international travel,” it said.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times